April 15, 2011

the tuna sandwich episode...

This is the essay that I submitted to Real Simple magazine's essay contest. It wasn't chosen as a finalist, naturally, but I enjoyed writing it for sure. It's a true story that I have been telling since I was a kid. Hope you like it ... 

I Never Thought I’d Eat a Tuna Fish Sandwich …

Wally Pendleton. That is the name that comes to mind when I am faced with the word tuna. I was five years old but I remember this occurrence as if it happened ten minutes ago. For twenty-eight years I have blamed my aversion to this brown-bag classic on my play-date with little, corduroy-clad Wally and his evil, tuna-peddling mother.

Wally and I went to kindergarten together. Our moms had met in typical fashion at school functions and what not. We were not exactly best of friends but more like paste-eating, flash card buddies. I was a little too bossy and a little too bold. Wally was subdued and sort of a wallflower. When my mother was unable to pick me up from school one cloudy afternoon she enlisted the help of Wally’s mother. It was a rather awkward and uncomfortable ride to the Pendleton home. I felt like a doll tagging along on an errand in the cart of a stranger.

Upon reaching the house, which was larger than my own, we were led up the driveway in a hurry to avoid the raindrops. I remember feeling uneasy and I wanted my mom to swoop me up immediately. Since it was raining outside we were limited to indoor play. For a little while I was able to forget my unfamiliar surroundings and enjoy a few games of hide and seek. After Wally chased me around the pool table for a few laps his mother called us into the kitchen for lunch.

We sat down at the breakfast nook and awaited our serving. Mrs. Pendleton placed a small plate in front of me. It smelled horrible. This was no PB & J. No sir. This was something straight from the sewer, I was certain. “I don’t want this,” I informed her, “I like peanut butter and jelly.” Well, it quickly became apparent that Mrs. Pendleton had no intention of creating my requested lunch. “This is what we are having for lunch today, eat it, you’ll like it,” she assured me. I could feel my face getting hot. My mom would never have forced me to eat something so vile. She would have given me my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she would have smiled while doing so. Mrs. Pendleton was clearly a monster. My tears were like skydivers in a doorway awaiting their jump. I lifted the stinky sandwich cut sloppily into a triangle. The fumes made me gag. I could see that Wally’s mother was displeased by the production I seemed to be making. I peeled off a tiny corner and winced while bringing it closer to my mouth. In it went. The back of my tongue tried to block it from my throat much like a goalie. I could feel my mouth watering with disgust and my throat closing in defiance. I managed to literally choke the miniscule bite down before stating that I refused to eat another stitch. Mrs. Pendleton removed my plate with a grimace. I began to cry. I wanted my mom to come through that door and save me from this horrid lady and her poisonous lunch. There was no calming me down, I sat outside on the cement stairs until my savior arrived. That day marked the end of my friendship with Wally.

That day also marked the beginning of something. The beginning of a life to be lived without tuna fish! I vowed to never touch another stinky sandwich in my lifetime. And I hadn’t … until age seventeen.

My mother is a pretty good cook and I always enjoyed the dinners she prepared. Well, except for steak. I couldn’t chew and swallow that to save my life. Overall, her meals were delicious and well-balanced. On occasion she would make tuna salad and when that smell wafted through the house I had flashbacks of The Pendleton Catastrophe. After years of declining a taste of this foul-stench salad my mother said something to me that gave me a new perspective. I believe the sentence was, “Taste buds change, you know.” Hmm. Is this true? Do taste buds change? Well I, being somewhat lazy in the research department, decided to take her word for it. I opted for a ridiculously small taste test. The end of my fork barely grazed the well-blended enemy. Within seconds my throat started to close and my mouth began to water in that suddenly all too familiar way. After the morsel of horror vanished I maintained my anti-tuna campaign.

Over the years I have caved several times at the request of friends and family. “Try it the way I make it,” they say. “This restaurant makes it the best!” I don’t know why I kept giving in. A glutton for torture I guess. Maybe it was the words of my mother that I had questioned years earlier still ringing in my head. It’s not as though I was happy hating tuna. In fact I wanted to love it! It’s healthy and a great option for lunch. I am a big seafood fan so it only made sense that I should be able to stomach a freaking tuna fish sandwich. I just didn’t understand.

One week ago today, my husband decided to make a big ole nasty batch of tuna salad. I could smell the unmistakable aroma from the living room and thought for sure I would have to run for a pail. I began lighting scented candles and waving my arms to exaggerate my discontent. Several minutes later he emerged in the living room with his little, brown sandwich. Upon taking his first bite he became overjoyed. His eyes widened. “Oh my God you have to try this,” he said, still chewing up his mouthful. I turned up my nose and shook my head like a child. He handed the half to me and again suggested its greatness. I decided to take him up on the offer. What’s one more bad experience, I figured. To my astonishment it was delicious. Delicious. “I can’t believe it!” I kept saying. “I like tuna!” “I can eat tuna sandwiches!” If our windows were open our neighbors would surely have pegged me for a mental patient. I couldn’t help it, I was stoked. This opened up a whole new world for me! It was like seeing a piano for the first time in your life and realizing you are able to play like Beethoven. Well, maybe not that exciting.

I can’t quite explain why that one sandwich was so special. I suppose it could have been the toasted Pumpernickel bread. Perhaps the melted American cheese won me over. Or maybe it just happened to be the perfect amount of diced celery. Whatever it was, it reeled me in like a wounded sunfish. I even made my own tuna melt the next day and ate the entire thing. I was so proud that I actually texted a few friends to spread the news. Mom was right, taste buds do change. I am glad I never gave up. I have proved to myself that it really doesn’t hurt to keep trying. It can be a little unpleasant at times but you never know what door you may unlock. Rock on, tuna, I’m sorry I doubted you.


  1. the bread makes a huge difference lol! as i got older i prefer it (tuna) on rye or pumpernickle . .for years i hated asparagus but now ive learned to cook it different ways and can enjoy it....perhaps my taste bus made a change as well..also real simple is my favorite mag. :) excellent recipes and great reads

    1. yes! Real Simple is the best! I look forward to it every month (after my mother and grandmother read it and pass it along haha). I think taste buds definitely change - so I'm constantly trying things to see if I still HATE THEM haha :)


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